Britain: the working class is back
Strike Wave Rocks Britain, as Unions Confront the Cost-of-Living Crisis
by Marcus Barnett, Labor Notes, November 18, 2022
In Britain today, anyone asking a worker about the direction the country is headed will be unlikely to receive a printable answer.
Stumbling from crisis to crisis, the country is on its third prime minister of the year. Energy bills have skyrocketed by 96 percent since last winter, and rent has shot up by as much as 20 percent, while inflation—which currently stands at 12.3 percent—has been predicted to rise as high as 18 percent by the first few months of 2023.
This is happening in a country which was the first in Western Europe to register 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has already been subject to brutal austerity measures that have wrecked the social fabric. An analysis by the Trades Unions Congress (TUC, the British equivalent of the AFL-CIO) released earlier this year found that British workers earned £60 ($70) less per month in real wages in 2021 than at the start of the financial crisis in 2008—the longest wage slump since the Napoleonic Era.
Where employers have offered any wage increases to combat inflation, they have still represented significant pay cuts in real terms. Not that the same rules apply to them; while pay offers to workers have generally veered between 2 and 6 percent, the average pay of an FTSE 100 chief executive shot up 23 percent this year, with record bonuses being dished out. (The FTSE 100 is made up of the largest companies on the London Stock Exchange).
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Enough is Enough—a coalition of unions, soccer fan groups, socialist members of Parliament, tenant organizations, and the publication Tribune—has gained nearly a million supporters, mobilizing people beyond the “usual suspects” to collect donations for strikers and food banks, throng picket lines, and rally against the state of Britain in places often untouched by protest. There is no doubt that if the Tories or employers like Royal Mail want to push their attacks, this power will be fully utilized to defend the RMT, CWU, and other unions.
Ultimately, the situation is still volatile and unpredictable. But one thing is undeniable: in Britain, millions of people now feel emboldened to challenge a social structure that expects them to live worse lives, working harder and harder for people who have never had it better. The workplace has been rediscovered as a battleground, and more people than at any time this century are recognizing their collective strength.
At Enough is Enough’s October day of action to support striking rail and postal workers, several banners across Britain displayed the immortal words of the RMT’s late leader Bob Crow: “Spit on your own and you can’t do anything. Spit together and you can drown the bastards.”
No matter what happens in the coming months, millions of people will continue to take those words to heart. In the words of current RMT leader Mick Lynch, “the working class is back.”
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